Top 10 Champagne hangouts
While Champagne is facing increasingly fierce competition from the sparkling wine sector, particularly from fizz of the moment, Prosecco, there are signs that the region is fighting back.
Contributing to its revival in the on-trade are specialist bars and the resurgence of the Champagne cocktail. According to on-trade specialists CGA Strategy, while sparkling wine has grown to occupy a 52% volume share of fizz sales in UK restaurants, bars and hotels, Champagne is seeing +4.4% volume growth on a year ago, and is tracking ahead of the sparkling wine category as a whole.
At the centre of the action, London is becoming increasingly divided into sites selling the grandes marques and those specialising in grower Champagne. Last year saw the opening of two dedicated Champagne bars in the capital – Bubbledogs in Fitzrovia and Champagne + Fromage in Covent Garden – with both choosing to focus on grower Champagne rather than grandes marques.
In London and New York, both of which have remained relatively bulletproof from the recession, consumers are continuing to trade up to Champagne with a treat culture having emerged on the nights when people do decide to hit the town, but in order to get the attention of today’s savvy, value-conscious consumers, the grandes marques are having to roar louder and shine brighter.
To coincide with the annual CIVC tasting in London today, read on for our pick of the top 10 Champagne bars in the UK capital and beyond.
Named after the French writer and philosopher who spent three years in exile in London on the order of King Louis XV after insulting a French nobleman, Voltaire in Blackfriars boasts London’s largest collection of Pommery Champagne. Housed in a grade II listed building that once served as a bank, the old stone vaults have been converted into a bar dubbed The Vaults at Voltaire.
The bar, which opened in February, boasts interiors by Sue Wheldon, who has worked with Champneys and the Kempinski hotel group. Featuring an outdoor cigar terrace and private alcoves decorated in silks and animal prints and manned by private waiters, Voltaire’s Pommery selection ranges from 30cl bottles of Pommery Pop to a nine-litre Salmanazar and top blend Cuvée Louise.
Voltaire also sells a bespoke Pommery Pop line created exclusively for the bar. The entire Pommery collection is on display in a “Champagne library”, which forms the focal point of the bar. Voltaire also offers Pommery-based cocktails, including sharing cocktail for ten, the Volt-X.
9: Searcys Champagne Bar at One New Change
Champagne bar specialists Searcys operate a quintet of bars in London at St Pancras Station, Paddington Station, Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush, Westfield Stratford and One New Change in the City, where grower Champagne by the glass is proving popular.
Boasting a more refined clientele than at the two Westfield bars, at One New Change customers are shunning big brand Champagnes in favour of small growers like André Jacquart and Francois Diligent. Blanc de blancs and brut nature are also doing really well, along with multi-vintage blends, such as Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle and Lanson Extra Age, which come in above vintage and below prestige cuvées in terms of pricing.
With by the glass sales performing stronger than bottle sales, rosé accounts for one fifth of all by-the-glass sales. Buoyed by the success of 2002, vintage Champagne is also doing surprisingly well at One New Change, making up 20% of total by-the-glass sales.
For an extra £3, customers can trade up from Lanson Brut NV to Lanson Gold Label 1999, and for £3.50 you can upgrade from Bollinger Special Cuvée to Bollinger Grand Année 2000. As an incentive, Searcys runs Club Bubble, where members get an upgrade from NV to vintage on every glass they buy when they show their card at one of the Searcys bars. Membership to the club is free.
Chef Brent Savage and sommelier Nick Hildebrandt have teamed up acclaimed Australian architect Pascale Gomes-Mcnabb to launch Champagne-focused restaurant Monopole, which opened in Sydney’s Kings Cross district last year.
A sleek 60-seater in trendy Potts Point, Monopole is the more relaxed sister restaurant to Savage and Hildebrandts’ fine dining spot The Bentley Bar in Surry Hills. Open seven days a week with a no-bookings policy, the restaurant is regularly at full capacity by 6pm.
Award winning sommelier Hildebrandt, who has worked with Savage for over a decade, is keen to champion grower Champagne at his sites, with a well-priced selection offered by the glass. Monopole’s house fizz is a Montgueux-based blanc de blancs grower Champagne ¬– Jacques Lassaigne Les Vignes de Montgueux, made from several Chardonnay parcels around the village of Montgueux.
The bar also boasts rare vintage gems from Jacques Selosse and Cedric Bouchard. Focusing on sharing plates served by Savage from an open kitchen, dishes include house-cured venison and duck charcuterie platters; grilled scampi with hazelnut butter; and roasted suckling pig with charred baby cucumbers.
Researched by Champagne Jayne
7: Ruinart Bar at the Royal Opera House
If you fancy something stronger than water during the interval, head to the Ruinart bar at the Royal Opera House.
Taking centre stage in the ROH’s stunning glass-domed dining space, LVMH-owned brand Ruinart is putting in a strong performance at its eponymous bar at the ROH, which has seen an uplift in sales since the house got on board, through innovations such as adorning the bar with pink flowers in December to plug its rosé offering.
The bar’s glass detail in the design mirrors that of the domed glass ceiling in the Paul Hamlyn Hall. In addition to the house’s signature blancs de blancs and prestige cuvée Dom Ruinart, the bar also serves salmon smoked to a unique recipe from Severn & Wye.
6: The Krug Room at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
An evening at The Mandarin Oriental’s tucked-away, private dining room will cost you, but the experience is worth the lofty price tag.
Seating up to 12 guests, the intimate space looks into the hotel’s central kitchen, allowing guests unobstructed views of chef Uwe Opocensky and his team at work. Foodwise, the tasting menu (starting from nine courses) is dictated by Opocensky’s whims and may include dishes such as tomato “tea” and vegetable “flower pot”.
Basic dinner includes two glasses of Krug Grand Cuvée per guest, but you can always upgrade to Krug Vintage 1998 or the super rare Krug Rosé. It would be a shame not to, as outside of France, The Krug Room boasts the most extensive selection of Krug in the world.
5: Fifth Floor Champagne Bar at Harvey Nichols
Scattered with hot pink and lime green chairs, the white walled Perrier-Jouët bar at Harvey Nichols boasts a ceiling sporting Emile Gallé’s famous Japanese anemone flowers, first sketched in 1902, that adorn bottles of Perrier-Jouët’s prestige cuvée Belle Epoque.
As you’d imagine, the bar sells an impressive selection of vintage Belle Epoque, along with other grandes marques, such as Bollinger, Louis Roederer and Pol Roger. From the Blason Berry Fizz to the Geisha, Champagne cocktails are flying at the P-J bar, despite their £14-19 price tags, according to manager Dominic Jacobs, who hosts monthly cocktail masterclasses at the bar. Outside of cocktails, the department store’s own-label sparkler accounts for 10% of all Champagne sales, with Perrier-Jouët Brut unsurprisingly in second place.
With the bar’s clientele made up of 70% women, rosé sales are proving solid, particularly by the bottle, while Jacobs recently added Armand de Brignac Brut Gold NV (or Ace of Spades as it’s affectionately known) to his line-up at £600 a bottle.
“It’s not a big seller but I like having it on the list as a point of interest. We recently secured a 3am licence, so sales of Ace might pick up at night as we’re catering to a different market,” he predicts, adding, “Champagne turns into a lifestyle brand at night and sales of Dom Pérignon and Krug increase in the party atmosphere.”
4: Café de la Musique
One market proving to be a gold mine for the Champenois is Brazil, where Perrier-Jouët recently signed an exclusive contract with swanky beach bar and club Café de la Musique in international clubbing hotspot Florianopolis.
Populated by Brazil’s glitterati and hosting some of the hottest beach parties on the American continent, to Frantz Hotton, international commercial director at Perrier-Jouët, belives the Café de la Musique link-up is important for the brand’s image. “The lightness of our Chardonnay-based style means that the clubbers can enjoy our cuvées all day long without getting dehydrated or feeling the need to drink anything other than Champagne,” he says.
3: Champagne + Fromage
Another London venue putting grower Champagne in the spotlight is Champagne + Fromage in Covent Garden. As the name suggests, it focuses on pairing farmer fizz with cheese. The French-inspired bistro, run by specialist grower Champagne supplier French Bubbles, features old wine crates and red chairs sourced from Parisian bistros.
Opening its shabby chic doors last June, the venue offers 25 grower Champagnes and 30 soft and hard cheeses, including brie, Camembert, Cantal and tomme, sourced from Borough Market staple Une Normande à Londres. In addition, the bistro hosts monthly masterclasses exploring the Champagne region and how to successfully pair fizz with cheese.
Co-owner Stefano Frigerio believes the recent popularity of grower Champagne in London has gone hand in hand with the trend for locally sourced, sustainably grown, artisan food.
“People care more about what they’re drinking these days, and how it has been made. There’s an attraction to the artisanal element of grower Champagne. Another big draw is that it’s usually cheaper than the grandes marques, particularly the vintage wines,” he says.
While entry-level house fizz Pertois-Moriset Selection is the venue’s best seller, Frigerio has noticed a recent surge in popularity for demi-sec. He is keen to grow his brand into a small chain and has plans to expand the Champagne + idea to other food offerings such as chocolate, sushi and crêpes both in vibrant London locations like Soho, Shoreditch, Marylebone, Brixton and Dalston, and around the UK in major cities like Manchester and Leeds.
2: Flûte Midtown
Run by ebullient Frenchman Hervé Rousseau, Flûte Midtown is a New York stalwart. Founded by Rousseau in 1997, Flûte boasts 100 Champagnes by the bottle and 25 by the glass, with eye-catching brand Beau Joie flying at the bar at $30 a glass. Making its suitably bling world debut in Las Vegas in 2010, the Beau Joie brand, playing on the word “bourgeois”, is only available in the US in both zero dosage and rosé styles.
Each bottle comes encased in a copper suit of armour, with the zero dosage offering proving particularly popular with calorie-conscious women, leading Rousseau, who spent five years working for Remi Cointreau promting the company’s Champagne brands, to launch a Flûte own-label blanc de noirs brut nature in collaboration with Drappier.
In terms of brands, Rousseau name checks both Charles Heidsieck and Barons de Rothschild as strong performers, with Dom Pérignon leading prestige cuvée sales and Krug emerging from Cristal’s shadow. While brut non-vintage is Flûte’s best selling style, both rosé and blanc de blancs are proving incredibly popular.
“Blanc de blancs is on fire in New York at the moment; people love its lighter, elegant, refined style,” says Rousseau. To keep things fresh, Flûte hosts regular Champagne tastings, covering everything from rosé and prestige cuvées to grower Champagne, along with weekly live music events
Since opening last August, hour-long queues to get into this compact Champagne and hot dog restaurant regularly snake down Charlotte Street at weekends.
Run by food and wine power couple James Knappett and Sandia Chang, whose enviable CVs contain a constellation of Michelin stars, including Noma in Copenhagen, Per Se in New York, The Ledbury in Notting Hill and Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley in Mayfair, Bubbledogs sees the humble hot dog paired with a cherry-picked list of grower Champagnes.
Featuring an embossed ceiling, exposed brickwork and a 35-seater copper-topped bar, the idea was in part inspired by Crif Dogs, a hot dog restaurant and cocktail lounge in New York’s East Village, accessed via a secret door.
Keen to steer Londoners away from the grandes marques, Chang has come up with a 30-strong fizz list made up predominantly of grower Champagne from the likes of Gaston Chiquet, Larmandier-Bernier, Forget Chemin and Emmanuel Brochet, ranging from £6.50 to £11 a glass and £26 to £180 a bottle – with Jacques Selosse Substance Blanc de Blancs, which Chang encourages customers to decant, topping the list for price.
The restaurant is doing 200 covers a day, with punters unphased by Bubbledogs’ niche offering. “I’m having to de-list a few of the producers we sell as there’s not enough stock to satisfy the demand,” says Chang, who is currently on the look out for a demi-sec to add to her list.